L’état sauvage [Savage State] (2019)

L’état sauvage
Director: David Perrault
Writer: David Perrault
Cast: Alice Isaaz, Kevin Janssens, Déborah François, Bruno Todeschini, Constance Dollé, Armelle Abibou, Maryne Bertieaux, Kate Moran
Part of: SLASH Filmfestival
Seen on: 23.9.2020
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Plot:
Esther (Alice Isaaz) and her sisters Justine (Déborah François) and Abigaëlle (Maryne Bertieaux) live with their parents Madeleine (Constance Dollé) and Edmond (Bruno Todeschini) who came from France to find a new life in America. But now that the Civil War is looming, perhaps it would be better, safer for them to return to Paris. But they have to cross the continent first, a dangerous journey for which they hire Victor (Kevin Janssens) as protection and guide. They pack their things and are joined by their maid Layla (Armelle Abibou) for the trek. But soon Victor’s past starts catching up with them in the form of Bettie (Kate Moran), spelling more danger for all of them.

Savage State was announced as a feminist take on the Western genre and, well, it definitely is a Western, but everytime it tried for feminist, things became patently absurd. That it tries at all, though, is probably the only thing that sets it apart from other – and much better – films. I didn’t get anything from it.

The film poster showing Esther (Alice Isaaz) and her family on horses, riding through the desert.

[Slight SPOILERS]

I have been starting to see more and more films touted as feminist and many of those films are made by men. And I’m not saying that a man can’t make a feminist film, nor that women automatically make feminist ones. But films like Savage State make me wish that people would stop trying to make feminist movies until they actually understand what it is about – and I feel like men are prone more to just forge ahead with a hazy idea of feminism as “strong women”.

In this case, to show that the women are strong we get scenes that are frankly ridiculous. The family’s waggon breaks down on a mountain pass, effectively blocking the road. They all have to move past it and everybody carefully inches along the side of the waggon, the mountain dropping away beneath them. Only Esther decides that she won’t be doing that and climbs up on the roof of the waggon and walks over it to the other side. The entire scene is shot as if that was pure heroism and all I could think about was how freaking nonsensical ALL OF IT is, when the fucking waggon is FUCKING OPEN, you can just walk through it, oh my goodness. Or, probably my favorite moment, when Abigaëlle is magically cured from consumption because her sisters tell her that it really doesn’t pay to die for a man.

Esther (Alice Isaaz), her sister Justine (Déborah François), her mother Madeleine (Constance Dollé) and their servant Layla (Armelle Abibou) walking through the desert.

There is also Bettie who is set up as the main villain. But instead of becoming the formidable presence she could have been, the film does everything to sabotage the character. At the beginning of the film, she gets a perfectly fine motive for going after Victor, but later it is revealed that actually, she is after him because he is her ex and she wants him back. Whoopdeedoo. Plus, she gets an entourage of scary henchmen in masks, just to reinforce their non-individual status – until (after a scene where they have an orgy that is shot so male gazey that it is obvious who is objectified here, and it’s not the men) they turn on her and become the big bad themselves which is just what the fuck.

Since nothing there worked for me, it is probably not surprising that the “romance” between Victor and Esther didn’t work out either. Rarely have I seen such a lackluster, chemistry-less relationship. It was entirely perfunctory and really does nothing for the film at all. Equally toothless is the inclusion of Layla (who is definitely not a slave because French people aren’t barbaric like those Americans, didn’t you know) whose entire role and position is underused and underexplored in the film.

In addition, the film just lasted just about forever, and the longer it went on, the more I groaned about it – and not in any enjoyable way, either, unfortunately.

Victor (Kevin Janssens) and Esther (Alice Isaaz) pressing their foreheads against each other.

Summarizing: no, thanks.

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